National Counselor Examination

National Counselor Examination

The National Counselor Examination (NCE) is a 200-item multiple-choice examination designed to assess knowledge, skills and abilities determined to be important for providing effective counseling services. The NCE is a requirement for counselor licensure in many states. It is also one of two examination options for the National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification. It may also be accepted by military health systems to become a recognized provider.

The NCE was first used in 1983 as part of the NCC application process, and continues to undergo regular review and development to ensure it represents the current reality of practice and research in the counseling profession.

Download NCE Content Outline

Prepare for the NCE

Study guides are available to help you prepare for the NCE.

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Content and Development

The National Counselor Examination (NCE) is a comprehensive exam designed to assess a candidate’s knowledge of the theoretical and skill-based tenets that are necessary for an entry-level counselor to safely practice. The scope of the NCE was informed by a thorough job analysis that was completed with the participation of over 16,000 credentialed counselors. The content of the NCE reflects each of the original eight Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) content areas and six empirically validated work behaviors that were deemed most pertinent for skilled counseling practice.

The Eight CACREP Curriculum Educational Standards:

  1. Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical Practice
  2. Social and Cultural Diversity
  3. Human Growth and Development
  4. Career Development
  5. Counseling and Helping Relationships
  6. Group Counseling and Group Work
  7. Assessment and Testing
  8. Research and Program Evaluation

Six Defined Work Behaviors (Domains)

The table below reflects the item distribution among these six defined work behaviors (domains), which are further described below. A thorough delineation of each domain and subdomain is available in the NCE Content Outline and NCE Handbook.

Table 1.The weight for each domain

Domain Percent of Items Number of Scored Items
1 Professional Practice and Ethics 12 19
2 Intake, Assessment, and Diagnosis 12 19
3 Areas of Clinical Focus 29 47
4 Treatment Planning 9 14
5 Counseling Skills and Interventions 30 48
6 Core Counseling Attributes 8 13
Total 100 160


  • Professional Practice and Ethics assesses counselors’ knowledge, skills, and abilities as they pertain to maintaining proper administrative and clinical protocols. This includes topics such as informed consent, client records, use of social media, and confidentiality.
  • Intake, Assessment, and Diagnosis consists of items designed to assess a counselor’s knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct client intake, assessment, and diagnosis. Items in this domain may reflect content such as performance of Mental Status Exams (MSEs), assessment for substance use, and evaluation of an individual’s level of mental health functioning.
  • Areas of Clinical Focus is one of the largest domains on the exam, accounting for more than 25% of the scored items. This section allows for the assessment of a counselor’s knowledge and skills related to a broad range of potential client concerns. For example, items may be related to bullying, obsessive thoughts/behaviors, sleeping habits, adoption issues, divorce, etc.
  • Treatment Planning is the domain of the exam that is built to assess a counselor’s knowledge, skills, and abilities as they relate to effectively treating clients. This domain houses items that may cover everything from a counselor’s ability to identify barriers to client goal attainment, discussing termination, follow-up after discharge, revisions of the treatment plan, or collaboration with other providers.
  • Counseling Skills and Interventions is the largest domain on the NCE exam, accounting for over 25% of the scored items. This domain encompasses items written to assess counselors’ knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct effective counseling. This is a broad and comprehensive domain that covers topics such as establishment of a therapeutic alliance, providing crisis intervention, use of self-disclosure, exploring the influence of family, and identifying group themes.
  • Core Counseling Attributes is the smallest domain of the NCE, and it assesses the behavior, traits, and dispositions of effective counselors. This domain is measured with items that address topics such as genuineness, empathetic responding, positive regard, and respect for and acceptance of diversity.

Multiple examination forms are published on an annual basis with different questions, but all forms are built based on these fixed specifications. Each NCE examination form consists of 200 questions, 160 of which are scored (see table above). The remaining 40 items are unscored field-test items. Field-test items are included on the examination to gather item statistics to evaluate their performance for use on future examinations.

Sample Questions for the NCE

The sample questions below should give you an idea of what to expect on the National Counselor Examination (NCE). For further practice questions, study tips and more, order NBCC’s official preparation guide or other study materials on our exam prep page.

1. Professional ethics require counselors to:

  1. Give free counseling to 25% of minority clients.
  2. Provide 10% off of services for clients with children.
  3. Devote a portion of their practice for which there is little return.
  4. Charge clients with higher income more and those with lower income less.
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2. Soon after the initial session, the counselor must determine the client’s diagnosis because:

  1. All clients seen by the counselor must receive a diagnosis.
  2. The counselor must determine personal competence to treat the client.
  3. The counselor must explain the diagnosis to the client within 72 hours.
  4. The opportunity to accurately diagnose a client is limited to one week.
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3. Suicidal thoughts, daily fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, loss of weight, and insomnia for a period of one month are symptoms of:

  1. major depressive disorder
  2. obsessive compulsive disorder
  3. alcohol use disorder
  4. adjustment disorder
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4. The process where a counselor and client create a plan to help the client feel better is known as:

  1. screening
  2. informed consent
  3. free association
  4. goal setting
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5. Counselors that ask clients to talk to an imaginary person seated in the room are using:

  1. gestalt therapy
  2. solution-focused therapy
  3. person-centered counseling
  4. adlerian therapy
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6. A counselor who reacts angrily toward a client who reminds the counselor of an abusive parent is engaged in:

  1. sublimation
  2. transference
  3. transgression
  4. countertransference
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